The FBI alleges that four hackers are guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, having earned millions from an illegitimate FIFA coin mining scheme.
When it was first announced a few years ago, Electronic Arts knew it had a hit on its hands with the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode. By granting players the ability to buy and sell player cards to build their own teams, the studio effectively created an entire marketplace that has since become a staple feature of the FIFA series.
As with any system that sees a lot of money exchanging hands, though, FIFA Ultimate Team seems to have attracted some nefarious types who seeked to exploit the system. Earlier this morning, the FBI has stated that alleged hackers have stolen millions of dollars from Electronic Arts, and are taking them to court for their crimes.
It's been an especially rough Monday morning for Anthony Clark, one of the defendants who is on trial against the FBI this morning. The FBI is pursuing a conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge against the defandant, who they say worked with 3 other hackers to mine FIFA coins and sell them on the black market to dealers in Europe and China. FIFA coins are used to purchase player packs, and there's evidently a hungry market to acquire the coins through illegitimate means - the FBI alleges that Clark and his co-defendants earned between $15-$18 million for their hacking efforts. The FBI seized almost $3 million in one of Clark's Bank of America accounts alone, and nabbed another co-defendant's lamborghini while they were at it.
The scheme supposedly started when a member of the hack group Xbox Underground procured an Xbox Dev Kit and reverse engineered a copy of FIFA 14, allowing the hackers to develop a tool that tricked EA servers into thinking certain Xbox accounts were playing matches, resulting in a quick way to mine FIFA coins. Although the tool took months to perfect, once it got running in 2013 the group was in for some profitable years before the FBI took notice. The scheme came to an abrupt end on September 17, 2015, when the FBI seized property and began fully investigating the case.
While Clark supposedly called the shots of the operation, he's not the only one facing jailtime: Ricky Miller, Nicholas Castellucci, and Eaton Zveare were also named in the criminal investigation. Miller pled guilty in October, which will likely make the cases against the other four a little easier for the FBI. Given the extent of how much money was made, we imagine the fraudsters are looking at some potentially serious jailtime.
The FBI only typically becomes involved in gaming cases when it comes to physical threats or the always-dangerous instances of swatting pranks, as it's highly unusual to hear of a case where millions of dollars of revenue are potentially taken away from a gaming studio. Remember, gamers, if you're going to scam someone in a videogame, try to do it within the confines of EVE Online. Gamers interested in earning some legitimate FIFA coins in the newest version of the game can read our review here.
The case against all four defendants begins today in Texas.
FIFA 17 is available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4. It's probably not available in jail.